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Dealing with Loss and Grief: Be Good to Yourself While You Heal

Red Sunset

“To be happy with yourself, you’ve got to lose yourself now and then.” ~Bob Genovesi

At a holiday party last December, I ran into a friend from college who I hadn’t seen in twenty years.

“What’s going on with you? You look great!”

“Oh, well… My mother passed away and my husband and I divorced.”

“Oh Jeez! I’m so sorry,” he said. “That’s a lot! So, why do you look so great?”

Perhaps it wasn’t the greatest party conversation, but I did with it smile.

“It was the hardest year of my life, but I’m getting through it and that makes me feel good.”

Sure, what he didn’t know was that I had spent many weeks with the blinds closed. I cried my way through back-to-back TV episodes on Netflix.

I knitted three sweaters, two scarves, a winter hat, and a sweater coat.

I had too many glasses of wine as I danced around in my living room to pop music, pretending I was still young enough to go to clubs.

And at times it was hard to eat, but damn if I didn’t look good in those new retail-therapy skinny jeans.

Another friend of mine lost his father last spring. When he returned from the East Coast, I knew he would be in shock at re-entry. I invited him over for a bowl of Italian lentil and sausage soup.

As we ate in my kitchen nook, he spoke of the pain of the loss of his father, and even the anger at his friends who, in social situations, avoided talking to him directly about his loss.

Looking down at my soup, I said, “Grief is a big bowl to hold. It takes so many formations, so many textures and colors. You never know how or when it will rear its head and take a hold of you. Sometimes you cry unfathomably, some days you feel guilty because you haven’t cried, and in other moments you are so angry or filled with anxiety you just don’t know what to do.”

Grief is one of those emotions that have a life of their own. It carries every feeling within it and sometimes there’s no way to discern it.

One of the greatest teachings in Buddhism is the lesson of impermanence—that everything that comes into being will go out of being.

But impermanence is just a concept until you face the ugly beast straight into his beating, bulging red eyes.

These are the things that helped me get through such a trying time:

1. Self-care, self-care, self-care. (Oh, and did I say self-care?)

The shock of loss to all of our bodies—emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual—is superb. When we wake in the morning, we question the very nature of who we are. Upon awakening there is a split second when everything is okay in our world.

And then we remember. The storm clouds cover our head again.

Our bodies need to be fed during this time, in order to handle such trauma. Self-care is personal, but I did the things I knew my body wanted:

Lots of baths, fresh pressed organic juices, sticking to a daily structure, such as meditating in the morning, exercising, journaling, reading inspiring books, talking with friends, getting out in sunshine, taking walks, admitting my weakness, and learning to nurture myself.

These were the base things that I knew I needed.

2. Accept there’s a lot you don’t know.

When the pain of loss happens, it’s like a lighting bolt comes and shakes the foundation of the ground. We question everything—our identity, who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going. There is power in surrendering to the unknown.

In coming to accept that we no longer have control over what happens to us, we realize that what we once knew we no longer can know. In fact, much of the spiritual experience is coming to realize all that we are not, and less about what we think we are or what we know.

Here, there is great freedom. And it helps us to meet life’s adversity with courage, head-on.

3. Allow time and space.

I learned once in a counseling psychology class that it takes two years to grieve the loss of a loved one. In human time, that seems like an eternity. There are stages. And each stage brings a remembrance, especially once you start hitting the “year marks.”

During the last year, each “mark” felt like Valentine’s Day without a lover. “Oh, this is the day I knew my marriage was over,” “Oh, this is the day my mother died,” “Oh, this was the last holiday we spent together…”

Recognizing that grief needs time and allowing space for the grief process to unfold gave me permission to hold that great bowl.

4. Accept that sometimes you have a bad day for no apparent reason.

Months, even over a year in I would have a day (or several) where it felt like there was no reason at all to feel in the dumps. I wanted to refuse to let it get to me. “Stay productive, keep it going; at least, that’s what your mother would want.”

But on those days, I just held up at home. Watched The Real Housewives on Bravo if I needed. Read People magazine. Saw a chick flick. Ordered a pizza with mushrooms and olives and ate it all.

I came to learn that grief pressures you to go within. I told my friends, “Bad day. Can’t talk. That’s all.”

I didn’t try to force it to be something different.

5. Allow light in the middle of it all.

Although there were many weeks of despair that seemed to bleed together, like a faded diary dropped in a hot bath, there were days in between when I experienced joy.

A fun lunch out with a friend, New Years out with my brother, a no-reason-to-be-happy-day when I felt vibrant and creative. Or like at that holiday party, which I didn’t really want to go to, but I put on make-up and blow dried my hair and ran into an old college friend.

Embrace those days and don’t feel guilty. Life is to be lived, because one day—and we all know the adage—we will die.

6. Accept that this too shall pass.

Like everything else, all suffering will go, until one day it comes again.

The greatest thing about death is that it helps us grow up. It matures us. It brings wisdom. It strengthens our bones. It teaches us to let go.

We learn we can go through hard times, and with little effort the sun shines again. We can take off our shoes and touch toes to sand and run on the beach, knowing that we made it through. Our happiness never really went away—it still exists inside of us—yet, we are remembering it anew. Fresh, transformed, aliveness engages us again.

Photo by gezelle

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About Lynn Newman

Lynn Newman’s (aka Lynn Zavaro) book and card deck set, The Game of You™- An Interactive Way To Know Yourself, Create The Life You Want offers a powerful, profound and FUN experience of self-discovery and transformation. Her board game, The Game of Insight comes out soon. She has currently finished her memoir. Visit her at gameofyou.com.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • abel

    I think it’s a little bit selfish to claim that we have lost something, we haven’t lost anything, it was never yours from the beginning. So is Zen

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Hi Abel. Thank you or your comment! One of my greatest spiritual teachings was to accept the humanness of my spiritual experiences. On the ultimate level, it is true, nothing is lost. My mother will always be with me. Yet, I prefer to not spiritually bypass the feelings of grief in order to truly heal and let go. By accepting the fact that I am human, it helped me not to become frozen in grief and live my fullest life.

  • Andrew Bee

    Great article!

  • Joan Harrison

    Thank you for the article, grief is so seldom talked about, but inevitably is a fact of life for us all.
    The grieving process has stages and the stages are very important. We must not try to rush a stage or avoid it, as it will keep coming back to be resolved – as you discovered.

    When we lose someone close we are most susceptible to change and eventually with time this can prove to be a good thing.
    Go with whatever you feel in grief, whatever is happening, whatever you are feeling is the right thing for you.

  • Kim

    This article hits very close to home for me. Thank you for sharing your story. Sadly, mine is very similar. My brother and only sibling died in a tragic car accident and then just 3 months later my husband of 24 years announced that we were separating and that there was to be no discussion about it. This happened on Mother’s Day, no less. He later demanded a divorce so he could be with the woman he had been seeing behind my back. The world as I knew it fell apart. My family was broken. I felt lost.

    The grief was overwhelming. It came in waves even when I thought I was getting better. I learned that grief is not linear and that we must grieve each loss in our own way and time. My initial problem was that I really didn’t know what to grieve first. I turned to mediation and prayer to help me accept that this was my new reality in life. For many months, I fought against this change. Now, I am beginning to see the blessings in my life because of these events. I’m learning to understand and accept the true nature of things and be grateful for the wisdom of impermanence and its role of renewal in our lives. I’ve learned a lot about myself through this process, and I am grateful when others share their insight, too.

    I am truly sorry for your losses. May peace and happiness surround you always. :)

  • Anne

    My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I found out my husband was having an affair while I took time off work to help my Dad during his chemo appointments. My husband and I split, sold our marital home, he put my dog to sleep without telling me, I moved in with my parents to help care for my Dad and then he died. This all spanned a period of 5 months. I felt deep despair. They were very dark, dark days. I was able to get through those days with the help of very dear friends and my family and by also taking one day at a time. I never tried to think of the future, I just decided what I was going to do when I woke up in the morning. I’m still doing that only I look forward a week at a time instead of day by day. I also focus on the wonderful aspects of my life; how fortunate that I have a wonderful job, that I have family and friends that love me dearly, my health and my creativity. Yoga, skiing, walking, reading, going to university, eating well and getting lots and lots of sleep were key to keeping healthy and I’ve stopped beating myself up and feeling guilty for the past. I don’t need to do that to myself.

    Next week, after the courts suggested it’s a good idea, my ex-husband has agreed to sit down to talk to me about dividing our marital assets. It’s been a nasty process these past winter months, and his avoidance of facing what needs to be done. I’ve acknowledged that I have a lot of anger towards him, but that is a natural response. I’m not repressing it, but feeling it fully and then letting it go. It’s a wonderful feeling, letting it all slip away like watching something you’ve dropped overboard on a boat, slip into the dark water. You just catch a quick glimpse of it as it disappears knowing that it’s gone forever.

    On my desktop I keep a picture of a broken vase whose pieces have been put back together with gold. It’s housed at the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian. The result is a vessel that is more beautiful than before it was broken. It’s an analogy of my life. I am treating myself with kindness, gluing my life back together with gold. I am a more beautiful stronger person as a result. Lynn, thank you for your story.

  • jen

    Great article!
    I needed it!
    Thanks!

  • Dan

    I’m not sure people can relate to grief until they’ve been close to it, and even then we never fully understand it. Thanks for the post today- I happen to be having a bad day, for no reason at all- and that’s okay!

  • Elizapornberry

    I just lost my best friend from highschool in a horrific car accident. A week later I was dumped. This article really got to me, even though I feel as if I am standing at a cliff or some crossroads, I now have the comfort that it will all keep going, thank you.

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Anne thank YOU for your story… Boy can I relate. That is the beauty of a site such as Tiny Buddha. Lori gives us this wonderful opportunity to connect and to know that we are together as we grow through life’s challenges and the blessings we receive from them. I love the image of the vase. It’s the gold that keeps us whole:) xoxo Lynn

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Oh how beautiful Kim! My heart goes out to you… You describe so lovingly what I meant by how “loss strengthens our bones and gives wisdom” Thank you for sharing. There is so much to be grateful for even when we meet suffering! xoxo Lynn

  • Lynn Zavaro

    I am so so sorry for your loss. My closest friend also died in a car wreck the year after we graduated from high school. It is a crossroads – and a painful one to bear. I send you warm wishes and wish you lots of comfort. xoxo Lynn

  • Lynn Zavaro

    You bet it’s okay Dan! Wishing you sunshine in the midst of it all:) xoxo Lynn

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Thank YOU for reading Jen:) xoxo Lynn

  • http://twitter.com/Lawnordermobile andy

    Anne, what you did for your dad will become the new benchmark for what you are capable of. You have nothing to fear in leaving behind your feeble husband and everything to look forward to in a world where you can trust your own judgement. I raise my glass to you. Be happy!

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Love this Joan! Yes! Whatever you are feeling IS the right thing:) xoxo Lynn

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Thank you for your comment:) xoxo Lynn

  • http://twitter.com/Lawnordermobile andy

    Thanks. I try to get to gratitude for what I had instead of sadness for what I’ve lost.

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Nice way to hold it Andy! xoxo Lynn

  • jdbt

    Thank you for this article – it’s a good reminder for me, that these traumatic experiences take time to process emotionally. I am at the one year mark — I took my 3 young kids and left my abusive husband last spring. It took me a long time to understand that I do deserve self-care (my self-worth was non-existent for so long) and I’m finally (slowly) embracing the fact that I do need it and deserve it. Thanks for reminding me how very important it is.

  • Anne

    Absolutely Lynn. Your words resonated deeply with me and were an affirmation that I’m on the right track. Tiny Buddha has been my friend through these days too. I neglected to mention that in my original post. Hugs to you.

  • Anne

    Andy. Many thanks for your words of support and encouragement. Feeble is the word. I’ve been searching for the appropriate one to use in polite company. :-) I see you’ve recently lost a loved one as well. As Lynn has mentioned, Tiny Buddha gives us the opportunity to share and learn from each other. Take care and know that you’ve sent a smile to me. I wish you much happiness too.

  • Beth

    This post is so timely for me. I too write about grief and illness. My husband has ms. The difficulty of this grief is that it is ongoing, but the same remains true about self care. Thank you!

  • Lynn Zavaro

    xoxxo Lynn

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Yes yes yes!!! Many yeses!!!!! xoxo lynn

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrea.perry.146 Andrea Perry

    And some days even 35years is not enough time to be done grieving

  • http://www.facebook.com/janice.donald.33 Janice Donald

    Thank you. Three months after losing my husband to cancer, I thought it would be easier, not harder. It’s reassuring to know I’m not a crazy wimp & “this too shall pass.” Surrender is not one of my strengths, yet I continue to be confronted with it.

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Hi Janice. Three months is still a very fragile place in my opinion. You are not crazy, it all takes time. I wanted to believe it too. Letting go is one of the hardest things we can do. My heart goes out to you. xoxo Lynn

  • Hansi

    for me this article is the other way round.. i was finding articles to get through from what i’m dealing with in this instant. but after reading few, now i’m standing hear wearing my ex boyfriend’s shoes. well my ex’s mom died recently and we were not together when his mom was spending her last days at the hospital. though i went to them and did what i could do for them to comfort my ex boyfriend as well. at the same time i met with an accident, so my ex boyfriend took me to the same hospital where his mom was. so we were kind of having feelings back again. however he wasn’t in such a mentality to fall for something like that or anything. what i’m feeling now is whatever happened between us all through these few years that he couldn’t devote me his time or he didn’t have any mood to treat me nice thinking about his ill mom. and i simply couldn’t be a good girlfriend for him since i was going through even more a tough situation which has brought me here today, that i’m having this brain disorder. at the moment my boyfriend is ignoring me for not being a type of girlfriend he expected, but for me he wasn’t there when i needed him the most, and even today he isn’t there for me when i’m suffering alone. we both have our own considerable reasons. what i’m learning is life is not always fair, life is full of challenges and life gives you so many burdens altogether within a short period, takes you to confusing places with confusing coincident, life is weird and AMAZING! what we have to do is face to that challenges, overcome them and WIN the LIFE! one day you will feel whatever happened is for a reason, indeed for a better reason :) so keep smiling :)

  • http://twitter.com/Lawnordermobile andy

    Good luck, Hansi. Life is not fair, but it gets better and better the more you take charge of it. Make positive choices, show no resentment and accept absolutely the reality of your situation. You must be strong now and do everything for yourself yourself. You’re going to be ok. And you’re going to feel real love the day you’re ready to give it.

  • http://hushhushheart.com Vickie Fowler

    In my life, I’ve suffered the loss of a sister, grandparents, friends and love breakups. I realized that I’ve grieved over my sister’s passing for 38 years (deeply and painfully) ~ and the strangeness of having out-lived her by 32 years is mind-boggling (because, she’s still my big sister). Since her loss, all others cause me to spiral back to her loss. A recent broken engagement made me realize, I’ve suffered enough. I’m learning to appreciate “me” now and what my future holds, learning to let go of the pain of the past. I just published an article on the stages of grief that I am familiar with ~ after learning the lesson that not every pain should equal another, that not every pain is a “house on fire”. Those that cut deep, however, require time and kindness to ourselves to walk through, at a minimum. I hope my post will be helpful to anyone experiencing the pain of loss in their lives.

    http://hushhushheart.com/7-stages-of-grief-and-loss

  • LesAnonymes

    “This too shall pass.” Such a good phrase to remember during tough times.

  • Geraldine Smith

    I lost my Mum who was my life
    I also feel directly responsible and regret the decisions made before she passed
    I gave in under pressure from others to take her home. She ws in a good nursing home. She deteriorated at home quickly.they blamed us,we blamed ourselves and now I have no Mum and I cannot work due to the stress
    The people here seem to have few regrets
    unlike me. I feel totally worthless.
    I am going to counselling bit it is not much use. I feel myself giving up and wanting to die but also think I deserve to suffer this life until it’s my turn.
    Deanna

  • Hollie

    Wow, this is just the type of advice that I have been looking for. I cannot thank you enough for your words because they offer a sense of encouragement as to the freedom that I have to look forward to once this stage of grief passes. In May of 2013 I lost my best friend at 21 years of age to an unknown heart condition. He was in a coma for five days, but didn’t make it. I had never experienced a pain so deep or raw. Like you, there were plenty of days were I laid in bed and didn’t get up. After a while I thought to myself, “okay, I’m good now, I lost my one person, so I shouldn’t lose another for a while.” Then in July of 2014 tragedy struck again when I lost my grandmother completely unexpectedly to a blood clot in her lungs. While this was a little easier to deal with because I knew she lived a long and fulfilling life, it didn’t make witnessing the pain that my father suffered any easier. Now, I am dealing with two major losses in a year in a half and am patiently waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. I do think I will come out a stronger woman, but right now I feel incredibly weak.

  • Natasha

    Nothing like speaking and working with a Grief Coach. You are not alone. wapuka@aol.com
    certified Grief Coach.

  • Peter

    My mom got a car accident 3 weeks and 6 days ago she is on morphine now she is going to die soon i am having the hardest time of all in the family since i am only 15 and already losing her i dont know what to do can someone help??

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Peter,

    I am so sorry to hear about your mom. I can’t even imagine what this is like for you. Are you close to your father? Or do you have siblings or other close relatives who are there for you? Everyone grieves differently, so I don’t know for sure what you may need, but I know you’ll need people who you trust to be there for you as you process your feelings and slowly begin the process of adjusting to life without your mother.

    You may find that therapy or a support group helps, as it often provides peace to connect with others who, like you, have lost a parent. Sadly, there are lots of people out there who can relate, and while that won’t change that this may be one of the hardest things you ever experience, it may give you strength and comfort to know you’re not alone.

    My heart really goes out to you, and I wish there was something more I could do to help. You and your family are in my thoughts.

    Love,
    Lori

  • Erik Adofo-Mensah

    You don’t deserve to suffer, it’s not your responsibility to keep another perpspn alive. You will live and love again. And you deserve happiness. All the time. No matter what.

  • Phillip Williams

    I lost my fiancee 4 days ago! The funeral was yesterday! I feel empty and so sad! I don’t know if I can go on! Any advice?

  • Elaine

    My partner died a month ago – he was truly lovely, my best friend above all else, and made life worthwhile. We worked from home together so were together everyday and I am completely bereft without him. I can’t yet process the idea of coming out the other side of grief as my world will never be okay without him, the world is a sadder, duller place without him in it. I have moments of trying to tell myself how lucky I am because I experienced true love and those are better moments but the pain of just missing him and his cuddles and his jokes and his funny dancing at my request and sharing a meal together – how is it possible?